Is it better to be optimistic and be disappointed by the results, or pessimistic and be pleasantly surprised?
I find myself asking that question a lot these days, and not just about the Washington Nationals.
There is an awful lot of optimistic talk coming out of Viera right now, and on the interwebs, about the prospects of significant improvement for the upcoming Nationals season.
Optimists are pointing to the offseason acquisitions and "youth" of the team progressing to turn consecutive 100-loss seasons into a competitive squad capable of approaching .500 this season.
Mike Rizzo identified four significant problem areas heading into the offseason. He wanted a couple of dependable, veteran starting pitchers, some new arms in the bullpen, catching help, and an upgrade in the middle infield.
The optimists say that he accomplished all his goals.
At the beginning of the offseason, Rizzo acquired Jason Marquis, an All-Star last season, to lead the starting rotation. Then just before spring training, the crafty GM signed rehabilitating Chien-Ming Wang to his squad. Wang won't be available until May or June as he rehabs his surgically repaired shoulder.
In the bullpen, Rizzo signed free agent Matt Capps and traded the first overall Rule 5 pick for Brian Bruney, a pitcher the Yankees considered expendable.
Capps was quite capable in 2007-08 while being used as a part-time closer. But despite the gaudy save totals in 2009, he was downright terrible, with an ERA approaching 6.00.
Bruney, himself injured for a chunk of last season, was left off the Yankees' postseason roster in favor of a third catcher.
Also added were ancient Eddie Guardado and Tyler Walker. They should join last season's additions of Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett to form a bullpen that will be better than last season, regardless of their success.
To address the catching needs, the team picked up certain Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez. Problem is, Rodriguez is less than a shell of what he once was. The players can talk all they like about what he "brings to the team," but the bottom line is that he OBP'd .280 last season. There are pitchers in the NL that hit better than that.
If Jesus Flores takes a while to recover from his arm injuries (and he still isn't allowed to throw back to the pitchers during bullpen sessions yet), Rodriguez, and his sub-.300 OBP, will get the bulk of the at-bats at catcher.
The middle infield situation remains muddy, as it has all offseason. First, Ian Desmond was going to start at short and Cristian Guzman was going to get moved to second. Then, the team courted Orlando Hudson all winter.
When Hudson decided to help break in the new stadium in Minnesota, the Nats went to fallback option Adam Kennedy, who is essentially a clone of Ronnie Belliard at bat, with a declining glove of his own.
So as you read all the quotes coming out of Viera, I urge you to take them with a grain of salt. It's okay to be optimistic. But please temper your optimism with a dose of reality.
Every single one of the offseason acquisitions comes with caveats—warning flags.
Marquis is a slight workhorse who saw his innings pitched total increase over 40 innings from 2008 to 2009. No one knows if Wang will return to form when healthy. Capps fought injury to the worst ERA of his career last year. Rodriguez hasn't been an above-average player since 2004 and was downright lousy with the bat last season. Kennedy was a third option.
I realize that those above sentences are rather gloomy, especially considering all the "feel good" coming out of Florida.
But it again leads me to the question I posed in the beginning: Is it better to be optimistic and be disappointed by the results, or pessimistic and be pleasantly surprised?
True optimism comes from the youngsters in camp, namely Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, and Ian Desmond.
But as the team is configured now, none of these players will wear the major league uniform until Memorial Day at the earliest.
So hope for better things from the collection of veterans Mike Rizzo assembled during the offseason—just don't necessarily expect it.
Save the real optimism for the kids.
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